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NWHL adds first Canadian franchise

(Reuters) - The United States-based National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) said on Wednesday it was adding a first Canadian franchise with an expansion team in Toronto next season.

Despite the passion for hockey in Canada, the country has been without a women’s professional league since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) ceased operation last May, leaving many of the world’s best players nowhere to play.

The yet to be named Toronto franchise becomes the NWHL’s sixth team.

The franchise will have an all-women ownership group led by Johanna Neilson Boynton, a former captain of Harvard women’s hockey team, while Margaret “Digit” Murphy, the longtime Brown university coach, will serve as president.

“We aspire to build a perennial Isobel Cup contender for Toronto,” Boynton said in a statement.

“This will be an organization with strong fan, community and corporate support, outstanding coaching, training, and player development, and a club dedicated to promoting hockey as a game for everyone.”

The Toronto team joins the league at uncertain times with the novel coronavirus outbreak shuttering sports across North America and leaving many facing a financial crisis.

The NWHL was unable to complete its current season and award the Isobel Cup when the final between the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps was postponed because of the pandemic.

Without a name or home arena, the Toronto team announced it had signed five players, who all formerly played in the CWHL.

“Today is just the start,” Murphy said. “We have plenty of work ahead.”

The 2020-21 regular season is scheduled to start in mid-November, with each team playing 20 games, but not everyone in the women’s hockey community was excited by the expansion news.

Born out of the collapse of the CWHL, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), whose mission is to promote and advance a single women’s professional league with fair wages, did not view the addition of one team as a big step.

“Our mission as the PWHPA has not changed and we are still moving forward with next season - in full,” the PWHPA said in a statement on Twitter.

“The opportunities that the NWHL will provide may be good for some players, but it’s not the opportunities that we want for our players or for future generations of young girls who will play the game at the highest level.”

Many of Canada’s top players have taken up the PWHPA cause, playing exhibition matches across North America to draw attention to the lack of opportunity for professional female hockey players.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ed Osmond

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